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Authors: Deborah Ellis

Looks Like Daylight (19 page)

BOOK: Looks Like Daylight
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Eagleson, 17

The Ditidaht Nation is one of fourteen nations belonging to the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribe of the Pacific Northwest. It is a land of giant cedars. The original people used the cedars to build their homes, for dugout canoes and for totem poles. The tradition today continues in the city of Seattle, where Aboriginal carvers sit on benches in Victor Steinbrueck Park and create incredible works of art with a piece of wood and a pocket knife.

Eagleson is a young carver. He spoke with me from the carving shed on Seattle's waterfront.

I'm the eighth generation of woodcarvers in my family. I started into carving when I was three years old. My grandpa and my father inspired me.

My grandfather was blind, but he still carved. He felt the wood with his fingers and could see the design without actually seeing it. My father is Rick Williams and my mother is from the white community. They don't live together.

I'm in the tenth grade in school. My best subjects are history and math. I'm probably going to study mechanics. And keep carving, of course. I go to Indian Heritage School. They know I'm down here doing this carving and they let me set my own schedule.

The totem I'm working on is a seven-figure design. My grandfather created the design in 1910. I'll come here and carve all day. I usually sleep here too.

Students come here to learn from me. I have seven students I teach about history and traditional painting techniques. I'm interested in learning how to make paint the way we did in the old days, bringing the colors from the natural world into the art we do. Paint can be made from fish eggs, flowers, bugs, rocks, shells, wood. All kinds of things. I want to learn more about that so I can teach it to others.

All ages of people come to the carving shed to watch and learn — older people and younger people. It takes a long time to learn. I've had my whole class come down here and check out the totems.

When it's done we're going to raise this totem and carry it from here to the Space Needle, where it will stand. Only Natives will carry it.

A lot of white people say they love Native culture. They say they love our work and love the way we look when we're all dressed up for powwows, but they don't really want us around as human beings. When we're not dancing or painting, I think they'd like us to just go away. They don't want to think about what their ancestors did to my ancestors, and what's still going on right now.

My uncle, John T. Williams, also a woodcarver, was shot and killed by a policeman. He was fifty years old and he was deaf. They shot him when he was walking down the street. He had a problem with alcohol, and was walking unsteady down the street, carrying a block of wood and a carving knife. The police knew him. They knew he was a good man, but they shot him and he died. They didn't think of him as a person. Maybe they looked at him and thought, oh, he's limping, his long hair isn't combed, his clothes are baggy, he's not important.

The carving knife he was carrying was just a three-inch pocket knife, the one he'd had forever. The blade wasn't even open. The cop yelled at him to stop, then seconds later shot him four times. He was on the ground dead, and the police still put him in handcuffs.

I'm doing this carving in my uncle's memory.

There's a lot of alcoholism in my family. I used to drink too. I started when I was twelve, and I kept it up for a long time. I was living with my mom then and just drank because — well, I just did. It wasn't good. It didn't make me feel good. It just made me feel like nothing. It even got boring after a while. I finally quit because my mom kicked me out. I live with my dad now, but really I mostly stay at the waterfront here 24/7.

Seattle has a lot of Native Americans. Many of them come from the reservations in the area. Some have lost their way and they do drugs and drink. They live on the pavement and people walk past them as if they are garbage. I'll sit and talk to them, try to talk them out of drinking. Or they'll find their way down to where I'm carving and they'll just sit, to be close to their culture, to something that's real.

When the carving was completed, ninety people carried the John T. Williams Memorial Totem Pole from Seattle's waterfront to the park by the Space Needle. It rises thirty-four feet into the air.

Nancie, 9, and
Breanne, 13

Native royalty pageants are one way many communities honor the strong young women among them. Chosen for their knowledge of their nation and culture and for their confidence in sharing what they know with others, Native princesses are ambassadors for their nations.

Sisters Nancie and Breanne have both been involved in pageants. They are from the Chippewa Nation.

Nancie

My mother's name was Nancy with a
y
. I'm Nancie with an
ie
.

I live with my Aunt Jan. She was married to Uncle Ramy but he passed away from a heart attack. He was really funny. He always had jokes to tell and goofy random songs to sing, like “A Spoonful of Sugar.” He'd just burst into singing it at any old time.

I used to have a sister. Her name was Ashley. She died a few months ago. She was seventeen. I don't know how she died. They won't tell me.

Ashley was fun and cool. She was a lot older than me, so she didn't want to always hang out with me. She had her own friends, but I had my own friends too! I like to go camping with my friend Abbey on the weekends, and Ashley liked to go out with her friends.

But she did hang out with me a lot. We didn't do anything special, just passed the time, went for walks to the park and things like that. We'd laugh and be silly. It always felt a little free, being out with her. She was usually nice to me. When she wasn't, it was just regular sister stuff, nothing big.

I have two brothers. My oldest one is especially funny. We have pretend fights. He pretends I've hurt him and then he fakes crying. It's really funny.

I'm not sure where my dad is. Mom comes to visit once a week, usually on Sunday, or I go to see her.

I like everything about school, especially gym. We play this game called Sharks and Fish. Three kids stand in the middle and they're the sharks. The other kids are fish. The sharks have to try to catch the fish. It's fun.

When I get older I want to help pets be healthy and be a teacher and have a shop called Fancie Nancie, full of cool clothes for girls.

At the powwows I'm a Jingle dancer. The dress jingles when it moves, and the sound and rhythm of it makes me happy. It was hard to learn the dance when I was younger. When you're just starting out your feet don't quite do what your mind tells them to do. But I kept at it and it's easy now.

I love doing really fancy steps. I love having lots of braids and beads in my hair. Some of the dancing outfits are really heavy from all the beads and decorations.

I design my own outfits. I love to use lots of color, lots of brightness. A friend of my aunt makes them. In my shop, Fancie Nancie, I'll sell a lot of clothes that I design. I do my own earrings too. One of my outfits for winter, is red, yellow, black and white. There's a blue and white one for the summer.

My sister Ashley loved dancing. She was powwow princess last year, and that's a big honor. You have to know a lot about being Chippewa and you have to be the sort of person others will look at and feel proud.

There's a junior princess and a senior princess. Ashley was the senior princess. Next year I'll be old enough to try to be junior princess.

Grief is really hard. I try to stay happy because there's a lot of happy things in my life, but sometimes I get very, very sad about my sister. When I get that really heavy sadness, the kind that makes my chest hurt, I go to one of my friends and ask her to cheer me up. She'll tell jokes and get me playing and then I can feel happy again.

Breanne

I'm in grade eight. My best subject is Ojibwe language because of the atmosphere in the classroom. Ojibwe classes are very relaxed and welcoming. We do language lessons and also learn about cultural things and stories of our history. It's like taking a deep, calm breath, going into that room. Even the pictures on the walls reflect who we are.

Ojibwe is an interesting language to study. The words are longer than in English and the grammar is different. By grammar I mean how the words go together so that they make sense.

I was powwow junior princess last year, when Ashley was senior princess. We got to travel to a lot of places — Wisconsin, Toronto, Kettle Point, Chippewa, Muncy. I love traveling. I'd like to go to Mexico, to lots of places and see lots of different cultures.

To become a powwow princess you enter the pageant. You get interviewed, evaluated, you have to dance, you have to know about your culture. You have to walk on a runway and take questions from judges in front of an audience. You have to be able to handle being nervous. If you let your nerves control you, then you won't be able to give good answers and you'll make people think you don't know very much.

Ashley was amazing as powwow princess. She was friendly, beautiful, fun-loving, crazy in a good way. She always made you smile.

She'd tried out for years and never got crowned, and then she finally did, and she was so happy! I know how happy she was because we'd be at the same events and we'd hang out.

A few months ago she killed herself.

It was a big shock to the community.

I don't know why she did it. I had no idea she was going to do it.

Her reign as princess had ended. But that's not a reason to do anything. I couldn't tell what was wrong. She always seemed so smiling and happy.

I heard about teen suicide happening in other First Nations communities. I guess I always thought it happens somewhere else, but not here and not to people I know.

First Nations kids have more challenges than white kids. There's always racism. I hear comments a lot when I'm in town. Even from adults in shops or on the street. Whites think our cultures and beliefs are stupid and that we are worthless. It's hard to keep yourself believing in yourself because the noise coming from the white people is so loud. They assume we're all bad and into drugs and crime. They don't bother to try to get to know us.

Some white adults talk to us really kindly, implying nasty things but using sweet voices, so if you try to call them on it they can pretend to not know what you're talking about.

Maybe it all just wore Ashley down. We'll probably never know.

I don't think I'll enter the senior powwow princess pageant. All my princess memories are with Ashley and I don't think it would feel very good to go on now that she's dead.

I hang out with her brother sometimes. He seems okay, like he forgets about it, but I think he just hides his emotions. Her mom has other kids. She has to keep going.

To other kids who have lost someone, it might help if you write a letter to the person to express your feelings. When you're done, you can keep it in a memory box or you can burn it and watch the smoke rise up to heaven, or you can leave it on their grave. Whatever feels right. In case there are things you didn't say to them while they were alive.

But it's better to tell them in person.

And it's a whole lot better if they don't die.

Hillary, 18

Many Aboriginal women in Canada have been murdered or gone missing, and some research suggests that in the past twenty years, the number of disappearances and homicides may be in the hundreds. Although Aboriginal people make up about 4 percent of the total Canadian population, they make up 27 percent of all homicide victims. According to Statistics Canada, the murder rate for Aboriginal women is seven times higher than the rate for non-Aboriginal victims, and the missing and murdered women have left behind hundreds of motherless children.

Hillary's sister was murdered at the age of fifteen.

I am a mixture of Huron, Cree, Mi'kmaq, Ojibwe and Métis. And Norwegian.

My sister Dolly was murdered a year ago. She was fifteen.

I helped my mother and my older sister pick out her headstone. I wanted it to be something she would like. Sisters know what a sister would want. It looks like an open book and it's got the words In God's Loving Care carved into it along with doves. It was expensive, but it's the last gift we'll ever be able to give her.

She went missing three weeks before they found her body. She was living in Sudbury, the city I live in now. Our mother used to live here too, but she's gone back to Kapuskasing because she finds Sudbury too scary. My father is still in Sudbury. I like being here because my sister is buried here and I wouldn't want to go and leave her alone. It is a scary place though. Drugstores are always being robbed for OxyContin.

It was a terrible three weeks, the weeks she went missing. We couldn't get anyone to take it seriously. It wasn't until she turned up dead that the police got on board.

My mother was going frantic. You can imagine. It's not that Dolly was an angel, but she'd always call. Even at three in the morning she'd call for Mom to pick her up if she was at a friend's house and it wasn't a good scene. Always. And she knew Mom would never be angry at her for calling. She'd always call just to let Mom know where she was and that she was okay. Mom told that to the police. The police ignored her.

“She's just at a friend's house,” the police said. “She's a teenager. Maybe she's mad at you.”

Later they said, “Oh, she's probably run away to Toronto. She'll call home when she gets tired of the big city.” There were other teenaged girls from Sudbury who went missing and turned up as prostitutes in Toronto. I'll bet you anything those girls didn't become prostitutes because they liked having sex with strange men. Someone forced them into it. But that wasn't considered serious by the police, because they were just Native girls.

Same with the media. The same time my sister went missing, a white girl from the south of Ontario went missing, and that was all over the national news. Mom kept going to the local affiliate to get them to cover Dolly's disappearance and nothing happened. She finally threatened to set up a picket line outside the TV station, and then they ran the story locally. The national news never covered my sister's disappearance and death. Ducks nesting in a hotel pond made the national news, but my sister's murder didn't.

We even set up our own search party. Mom asked the cops for advice on how to do it but they never got back to her. We had to just do it as best we could. We went out looking for her a lot in different parts of the city. We looked around this tent city set up along the railway tracks where people aren't supposed to be camping but they have no other homes. We searched parks, towns around Sudbury, wasteland places. I remember searching out in the bush with some friends. It was raining hard and the car got stuck in the mud. We looked in woodpiles, creeks, highway underpasses. Everywhere we could think of.

It turns out she was murdered the same night she went missing. The police found her body in a wooded area by a lake.

They caught the two guys who did it. One is an adult, over the legal age. The other is a young offender. They're white.

I went to one of the bail hearings. Dolly's killer just stared at me, sneering. My boyfriend was with me and stared him down. I heard later that they made jokes about killing her.

The police kept Dolly's body for three weeks until they let us bury her. It came out in court what those men did to her. They crushed and burned her. They're not human. They can't be human. But what else are they, if not human? Mom would like them to tell her why they did it, but I know that there is no why. They just did it.

They didn't get bail. The dad of one of them would have bailed him out, but my mom went to him and said, “You're worried about your son, and you have my sympathies. But my daughter's not coming home. And your son's not coming home any time soon either.”

My mom's amazing. She's visually impaired but she's one of those moms that has eyes in the back of her head.

I've heard that the guys are going to plead guilty. Maybe they'll have some explanation then of why they did it. But again, there is no why. There is no way to understand it.

Sign at a memorial vigil

After they were arrested, a Native guy came up to my mother on the street and said, “Don't worry. The Native Mafia will take care of those guys.” The cops say that the Native Mafia is worse than the Italian Mafia because when the Native Mafia do something, they leave no trace.

My boyfriend is in jail right now. He has some addiction struggles. He's in the same facility as one of my sister's killers. The killer was in the visiting room one time when I went in to visit my boyfriend. I complained to the jail officials, but it happened another time. They don't care.

My boyfriend had to really struggle with himself not to hurt this guy. We have a son together. It's important that he get out of jail soon so we can be good parents together. He got himself under control, then asked this guy why he killed Dolly. The guy said for him to tell me he's sorry.

Sorry. He can stick his sorry. How can you apologize for killing someone? There is no way to apologize for that.

I've since heard about stuff that's happened to both the killers in jail. At first I felt bad for them. They're just young guys. It took me a while to remember that I didn't put them there. They put themselves there. What happens to them is not my fault. When men get hurt, why do women feel guilty? I know what they did, but I don't like the thought of the same thing being done to them.

My boyfriend will get out of jail soon and we'll try to make it work. I dropped out of school. I just couldn't concentrate.

We marked my sister's seventeenth birthday not long ago. I guess we thought it would make us feel better, since we'd be thinking about her anyway. We had a cake and we talked about her.

They say things get easier with time. I just don't know.

Dolly was a terrific fighter. I'm older and bigger but she could whip my ass! She always told me she wouldn't think for a second before trying to hurt some guy who was trying to hurt her. It took two of them to kill her. And she would have made it as hard on them as she could.

How do I raise my son to be a good man? How can I be louder than all the music and all the messages that will tell him that to be a man he must rape and beat women? He's only nine months old now. How can I keep him from becoming the sort of man that would kill a girl like my sister?

Every mother must wonder that. Do fathers worry about that too?

It was lonesome, the leaving. Husband dead, friends buried or held prisoner. I felt that I was leaving all I had but I did not cry.You know how you feel when you lose kindred and friends through sickness. You do not care if you die. With us it was worse. Strong men, well women and little children killed and buried. They had not done wrong to be so killed. We had only asked to be left in our own homes, the homes of our ancestors. Our going was with heavy hearts, broken spirits. But we would be free … All lost, we walked silently on into the wintry night.

—
Wetatonmi, widow of Ollokot, brother of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce

BOOK: Looks Like Daylight
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